ongwriters are in the service industry,” Rosanne Cash said during Conn’s President’s Distinguished Lecture Series event, held in April at the College’s Athey Center for Performance and Research at Palmer Auditorium.
Cash, a four-time Grammy Award–winning singer-songwriter and best-selling author, and Conn President Katherine Bergeron held a moving discussion about art, activism and the power of music to change lives.
“In the best cases, you provoke your listener into reflecting on themselves,
or something opens, something is revealed, something is processed, something is extricated, something is touched. That’s why I always think of art or music as the greatest healing force, because if we’re in touch with our feelings, then we have more compassion. We have more understanding.”
Cash’s career spans more than 40 years, and includes 15 albums, 11 No. 1 singles and 21 Top 40 hits. She also is a writer and activist whose publications include a collection of stories and poems (Bodies of Water), a memoir (Composed), and numerous essays and opinion pieces that have appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, the Oxford-American and The Nation, among other publications.
During the event, Cash told Conn students, faculty, staff and members of the greater New London community that she has always been drawn to the rhythms in language and knew she wanted to be a writer from the time she was about 7 years old.
“I started writing poetry then, and in my teens started putting poetry to music,” Cash said.
In both her music and her writings, Cash has been one of country music’s most outspoken advocates for ending gun violence in the U.S. She has served on the board of directors of PAX, an organization that has since become part of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. On her 2018 album, She Remembers Everything, Cash explores the suffering that endures from a lifetime of injustices.
Cash said that she tries to avoid proselytizing in her songs—“There’s no quicker way to turn people off than to lecture to them,” she said. But she believes music is political by nature.
“All art is political, because if it doesn’t change you in some way, then it’s not real.”
During the Q&A portion of the event, Cash addressed the legacy of her famous family and what it was like to carve her own path.
“In some ways, it’s no different than any young person who goes into the same field as a parent who’s been very successful. And on another level, it’s no different than any young person in their 20s who needs to separate from their parents to find out who they are. My [story is] a little complicated, because my dad did cast such a large shadow and I struggled with that,” she said, adding that her father encouraged her songwriting and taught her about musicology.
“I probably did push away longer than I needed to. … But I did accept it, and I do appreciate it. I love my family’s legacy of this music.”
Prior to the public event, Cash gave a master class for student songwriters from “Music 201: On Songs and Songwriting,” which is co-taught by Bergeron and her partner, multi-instrumentalist Butch Rovan. Cash listened to completed songs written by seven students and offered them tips and advice for future songwriting.
Cash’s talk was part of the President’s Distinguished Lecture Series launched in 2016, which brings notable figures from a variety of fields and backgrounds to Connecticut College for informal meetings with the campus community and a public presentation for the greater New London region.